Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Wasps preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Wasps (Aviva Premiership - round four)
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, September 24, 3pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Dickinson; Wood (c), Gibson, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, Ma’afu, Hill, Paterson, Harrison, Kessell, Hutchinson, Tuala.
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Wasps: Miller; Wade, Daly, Gopperth, Bassett; Cipriani, Simpson; Mullan, Taylor, Cooper-Woolley; Symons, Gaskell; Jones, Thompson, Hughes.
Replacements: Johnson, McIntyre, Moore, Myall, Young, Robson, Eastmond, De Luca.
Injuries: Saints: Christian Day (ruptured bicep), Tom Stephenson (ankle), Jamie Elliott (shoulder), JJ Hanrahan (ankle), Luther Burrell (concussion), Dylan Hartley (back)
Referee: Luke Pearce
Most recent meeting: Sunday, April 3, 2016: Wasps 28 Northampton Saints 6 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: It seems strange to say that now is the best time to face a team who have won their first three league games and put 70 points on a side last Sunday.
But for Saints, this could just be the right moment to square up to a rampant Wasps team who continue their seemingly inexorable rise.
Because although Wasps have an array of talent to call upon at Franklin’s Gardens this Saturday, some of their biggest stars are still missing.
Australian ace Kurtley Beale and South African full-back Willie Le Roux remain unavailable, as does England flanker James Haskell.
Also, you would think Saints would rather face Wasps outside of the international window.
Because then Jim Mallinder’s men can call on the likes of Louis Picamoles and George North to boost their bid.
Wasps may have an impressive backline, but many of the men it is currently composed of probably won’t have international commitments.
The likes of Joe Simpson, Danny Cipriani and Christian Wade are on the fringes of the England team.
So Wasps could be even more devastating during the autumn internationals and the Six Nations, as they were back in February, when they stunned Saracens 64-23 at Allianz Park.
Let’s not forget that Saracens went on to do the double, but Wasps were the ones to beat during the Six Nations.
They seem to have the perfect squad to deal with a full Premiership campaign, meaning they have to be fancied to finish in the top two.
They smashed Saints twice last season, continuing their impressive recent evolution with their first win in Northampton for more than 10 years before cruising to victory at the Ricoh Arena.
Saints certainly have scores to settle, but they also have points to prove to their home fans.
The Franklin’s Gardens faithful have been starved of striking home performances of late, with the opening-day defeat to Bath continuing a disappointing theme.
But a win against a high-flying Wasps team would banish some of those bad memories and provide a real boost going into the following week’s home game against Exeter.
It’s an overused cliche, but Saints really do need to make Franklin’s Gardens a fortress again if they are to finish in the top four this season.
And now might just be the time they start to rebuild that sturdy rampart.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 22 Wasps 20